Behind the write-downs

March 31, 2010

Since the passage of the Democratic health-care-nationalization bill, a number of companies have announced that the bill will increase their health care costs dramatically and possibly will require them to reduce their employees’ health care benefits. AT&T wrote down $1 billion, Deere $150 million, Caterpillar $100 million, 3M $90 million, and AK Steel $31 million. Verizon didn’t state a figure yet, but it could easily run into the billions.

There are several interesting tendrils of the story:

  • This is exactly what opponents of the bill predicted would happen. The Democrats’ assurances that no one would lose their health care was all poppycock.
  • The worst is yet to come. These write-downs are all (I believe) as a result of two factors, the cut in subsidies under Medicare part D (that’s prescription drugs for retirees) and the “Cadillac tax” on high-value health plans. These effects are minor compared to what’s coming. Once insurance companies are barred from using actuaries to set fair prices, are required to cover pre-existing conditions, and once policies are required to cover a raft of services that many do not cover now, prices are going to soar.
  • Democrats, stung by the bad publicity, are demanding that the CEOs of those companies appear on Capitol Hill for a tongue-lashing. The message is clear: don’t expose what we’ve done.
  • The hilarious thing is that these write-downs are required under generally accepted accounting practices. Megan McArdle explains:

    Accounting basics: when a company experiences what accountants call “a material adverse impact” on its expected future earnings, and those changes affect an item that is already on the balance sheet, the company is required to record the negative impact–“to take the charge against earnings”–as soon as it knows that the change is reasonably likely to occur.

    This makes good accounting sense. The asset on the balance sheet is now less valuable, so you should record a charge. Otherwise, you’d be misleading investors.

    The Democrats, however, seem to believe that Generally Accepted Accounting Principles are some sort of conspiracy against Obamacare, and all that is good and right in America.

  • In fact, under Sarbanes-Oxley, companies are required by law to make these disclosures.
  • The Medicare part D subsidy that is being cut was originally designed as an incentive for private companies to keep retirees on their prescription plan and off Medicare. Now it’s being labelled as “corporate welfare“:

    Remember: Subsidies and tax breaks are first sold as necessary carrots in the delicately balanced, expertly engineered Rube Goldberg machine that is our welfare state; they only get labeled as “corporate welfare” when the Democrats decide they want to take over an activity entirely.

  • The subsidy is being cut as part of the Democratic effort to rig its bill’s CBO score. According to the CBO score, it will save $5.4 billion. But that’s assuming the CBO’s usual static analysis. That is, it assumes companies will not drop drug benefits for retirees in response to the subsidy cut. This is almost certainly counterfactual. When companies dump millions of retirees into Medicare drug coverage, it will cost much more than the $5.4 billion that the cut supposedly saves.
  • Again, this is exactly what opponents of the bill predicted would happen: the bill will cost much, much more than the official figures predict.

Libeling the pope

March 31, 2010

I’m not Catholic, but I’m also not particularly hostile to modern Catholicism, so I’m not very invested either way in the question of who is ultimately responsible for the Catholic church’s molestation scandal. However, I am very invested in the idea that the media ought to tell the truth.

I find compelling these two pieces (in National Review and the New York Daily News) arguing that efforts to pin the scandal on the Pope are false and indeed libelous.

But the MSNBC headline “Pope Describes Touching Boys: I Went Too Far” is an outright lie. (NBC has apologized.) I guess that’s MSNBC’s job: making other dishonest media look good by comparison.

(Via the Corner.)

Individual mandate is enforceable after all?

March 31, 2010

Some tax law professors are saying that the JCT analysis arguing that the individual mandate is essentially unenforceable is wrong. Frankly, I don’t know what to hope for.

Time for a new narrative

March 31, 2010

According to a new Gallup poll, the post-health-care-nationalization narrative adopted by the Democrats has failed, and possibly even backfired. More people (49%) blame Democratic leaders for (largely imaginary) rash of threats and vandalism than conservative commentators (46%) or Republican leaders (43%).

Alas, it appears that the poll didn’t ask whether people thought there really was a rash of threats and vandalism, or whether people thought that talk of threats and vandalism was a political ploy by Democrats to distract voters from what they’d done. It would have been interesting to see numbers on such a question.

The poll also shows that Democrats have much to distract voters from. A majority (53%) believe that the tactics used by Democrats to pass the bill was an abuse of power, including nearly all Republicans, 58% of independents, and even one-in-five Democrats.

Yet another tax increase

March 30, 2010

The health care nationalization bill limits contributions to Flexible Spending Accounts. A family earning $100k per year that uses FSAs will be paying $625 more in taxes each year.

Public education

March 30, 2010

At Woodland Hills Junior High (that’s my school district, unfortunately) homework is optional.

UPDATE: Woodland Hills ranks 477th out of 498 school districts in Pennsylvania. No wonder.

Obama foreign policy

March 30, 2010

(Via Power Line.)

Expiration dates

March 30, 2010

Jim Geraghty has what he says is the complete list of expiration dates on Obama promises. It’s a long list but I see a few missing (such as this and this).

No time for real threats

March 30, 2010

The networks breathlessly covered the bogus stories of threats against Democrats for passing health care nationalization, but when it came to an actual threat (a man arrested for death threats against Eric Cantor (R-VA), the House minority whip) most of them skipped the story. NBC covered the story briefly, but withheld the detail that the man arrested was an Obama donor.

As Glenn Reynolds says, it’s all about the narrative.

Technology forcing

March 29, 2010


Pharaoh wanted to conserve natural resources, so he withheld the straw from Hebrews that they had been using to make bricks. Free market naysayers and straw industry lobbyists claimed that this would cripple the brickmaking industry, but instead the Hebrews adjusted.

An independent census

March 29, 2010

The New York Times editorializes in favor of a proposal to give the Census greater autonomy. It sounds like a generally good idea, but of course a lot depends on exactly how the proposal is written, which one cannot glean from the editorial.

But despite its praise for the bipartisanship of the proposal, the NYT simply can’t help trying to score partisan points. They blame the Census’s woes on some unspecified problem during the Bush administration in 2006 (“the Bush administration’s lack of support for the census”, whatever that means).

On the other hand, they curiously forget the Obama administration’s recent, illegal effort to take over the Census and run it out of the White House. (Eventually the White House had to abandon the scheme.) That seems a bit more relevant to the idea of an independent census.

Recess appointments are good now

March 29, 2010

The New York Times on recess appointments, more or less:

It is disturbing that President Obama has exhibited a grandiose vision of executive power that leaves little room for public debate, the concerns of the minority party or the supervisory powers of the courts. But it is just plain baffling to watch him take the same regal attitude toward a Congress in which his party holds solid majorities in both houses.

Seizing the opportunity presented by the Congressional holiday break, Mr. Obama announced 15 recess appointments — a constitutional gimmick that allows a president to appoint someone when Congress is in recess to a job that normally requires Senate approval. The appointee serves until the next round of Congressional elections.

This end run around Senate confirmation was built into the Constitution to allow the president to quickly fill vacancies that came up when lawmakers were out of town, to keep the government running smoothly in times when travelers and mail moved by horseback and Congress met part time.

Modern presidents have employed this power to place nominees who ran into political trouble in the Senate. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton made scores of recess appointments. But both of them faced a Congress controlled by the opposition party, while the Senate has been under Democratic control for Mr. Obama’s entire first year in office.

You won’t see precisely that editorial in the New York Times. That’s Mark Tapscott’s version of the NYT’s 2006 editorial condemning President Bush’s recess appointments. Tapscott just swapped out Bush for Obama and made corresponding factual edits (15 recess appointments instead of 17, etc.).

No, you can’t expect the NYT and its Democratic allies to be consistent with the shoe on the other foot. Recess appointments are good now. Just as signing statements and manager’s amendments are good now, and filibusters (once bad, and then good) are bad once again.

All of this underlines Michael Barone’s first rule of life: All process arguments are insincere.

The hypocrisy is amusing to watch, but what’s really a pity here is the substance. Craig Becker, President Obama’s appointment to the National Labor Relations Board, is truly awful and was justly blocked in the Senate.

(Via Instapundit.)

White House divided over Israel

March 29, 2010

It’s not clear who is going to prevail, but one thing is clear: The administration has no idea what it’s doing. (Via Hot Air.) Meanwhile, a bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives calls on President Obama to reverse course.

Given the people Obama has chosen to run his administration, an insane hostility to Israel is no more than you would expect.

Government-run health care

March 27, 2010

A glimpse of our future:

Tens of thousands of NHS workers would be sacked, hospital units closed and patients denied treatments under secret plans for £20 billion of health cuts.

The sick would be urged to stay at home and email doctors rather than visit surgeries, while procedures such as hip replacements could be scrapped.
The plans have emerged as health chiefs draw up emergency budgets that cast doubt on pledges by Gordon Brown to protect “front line services” in the NHS.

Documents show that health chiefs are considering plans to begin sacking workers, cutting treatments and shutting wards across the country. The proposals could lead to:

  • 10 per cent of NHS staff being sacked in some areas.
  • The loss of thousands of hospital beds.
  • A reduction in the number of ambulance call-outs.
  • Medical professionals being replaced by less qualified assistants.

The final details of the plans are not due to be announced until the autumn, well after the country has gone to the polls for the general election.

Moral hazard and government mismanagement lead to soaring costs. Soaring taxes and reduced expenditures in other areas (including the legitimate functions of government) follow. Ultimately, when we reach the limit of what can be extracted from the taxpayers, and other areas cannot be cut further, we’ll see this. The only way to prevent this is to reverse course.

(Via Instapundit.)

The individual mandate is unenforceable

March 26, 2010

That’s essentially the conclusion of the Joint Committee on Taxation (page 33, here):

The penalty applies to any period the individual does not maintain minimum essential coverage and is determined monthly. The penalty is assessed through the Code and accounted for as an additional amount of Federal tax owed. However, it is not subject to the enforcement provisions of subtitle F of the Code. The use of liens and seizures otherwise authorized for collection of taxes does not apply to the collection of this penalty. Non-compliance with the personal responsibility requirement to have health coverage is not subject to criminal or civil penalties under the Code and interest does not accrue for failure to pay such assessments in a timely manner.

This is a big deal. It means that the entire system the Democrats has forced on us is untenable. (Even more than we thought it was.) The individual mandate is essential to the whole system: without it people can wait until they get sick to purchase health insurance, and (under the pre-existing condition provision) insurers will be forbidden to reject them or charge them an actuarially fair rate. Without forcing healthy people into the system, costs will skyrocket.

(Via Big Government.)

POSTSCRIPT: As I noted earlier, even the individual mandate doesn’t entirely solve the problem, but the properly is certainly much worse without it.

UPDATE: But see this.

Are the ideas banned?

March 26, 2010

In an interview with the New York Times in April 2009, President Obama said that it “is a very difficult question” whether it is “a sustainable model” to give hip replacements to the terminally ill. He went further, explaining how to cut the cost of caring for “the chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives”:

It is very difficult to imagine the country making those decisions just through the normal political channels. And that’s part of why you have to have some independent group that can give you guidance. It’s not determinative, but I think has to be able to give you some guidance. And that’s part of what I suspect you’ll see emerging out of the various health care conversations that are taking place on the Hill right now.

That, and other remarks, led people to worry about an “independent group” that would be responsible for rationing care to the elderly and chronically ill. And, sure enough, the health care nationalization bill creates an Independent Medicare Advisory Board to cut Medicare spending.

A month ago, the White House told us not to worry about the board rationing care because:

To make sure that America’s seniors on Medicare are protected, all ideas that ration care . . . will be banned.

The ideas will be banned! I was skeptical, to put it mildly. But now that the bill is law, let’s see what it says. Are the ideas banned?

Section 3403 says in regards to the board’s proposals (which take effect automatically):

The proposal shall not include any recommendation to ration health care.

Sounds like a good start, but the strength of the prohibition depends on how “ration health care” is defined. So what’s the definition?

There isn’t one. The word “ration” appears nowhere else in the entire bill. As a result, it’s hard to see that this prohibition could ever be enforced. It’s just there for the White House to point to.

But, in the very next paragraph, the bill specifically authorizes cuts in “payment rates for items and services furnished” beginning in 2020. So while the board isn’t supposed to “ration health care”, it has the power to limit payment rates for health care, which will have exactly that effect.

In short, the board is empowered to ration care, but prohibited from calling it that.

Democrats suddenly concerned about political violence

March 26, 2010

The Democrats have decided that the centerpiece of their post-health-care-nationalization political push will be to paint their opponents as violent yahoos by advertising every incident of vandalism and threats directed at them. This is awfully rich, from the party that has been promoting and protecting political violence all along. (For example: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, etc.)

The Seattle Times is happy to play along with the Democratic narrative. In the worst hatchet job I’ve seen in a long time, the Seattle Times has published an article collecting every incident of vandalism and threats against Democrats in the wake of the health care nationalization vote, without a word about vandalism and threats against Republicans. (A bullet was shot through the window of Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) office, for crying out loud.) An article this unbalanced is tantamount to a lie.

But what is certainly a lie is this:

A rock was thrown through the window of Driehaus’ Cincinnati office Sunday, and a death threat was phoned in to his Washington office a day later, Mulvey said.

That would be impressive, since apparently Driehaus’s office is on the 30th floor of a downtown skyscraper.

UPDATE: The Seattle Times corrects. Now they’re blaming Bloomberg for the error. Okay, but they ran the story under the line “Seattle Times news services”, which is a funny way of saying “we repeated some stuff we saw on the wires.”

Terrorist finance protector appointed Army counsel

March 26, 2010

Another dreadful appointment:

Gabriel Schoenfeld points out in the Weekly Standard that the administration’s nominee to be general counsel of the Army, Solomon B. Watson IV, was general counsel of the New York Times when it broke the story of the Treasury’s program to uncover terrorist financing.

Watson has drawn fire for his role in allowing the disclosure of that program. Certainly the Times deserves a black eye for that disclosure, which even its own public editor ended up condemning – admitting, “I haven’t found any evidence in the intervening months that the surveillance program was illegal.” . . .

In fact this may be one of the most damaging national security breaches the Times has ever committed, since the European overreaction to the story has crippled a valuable program.

Tracking terrorist funding seems like a good idea. Because of Watson and the New York Times, we’re not doing it any more. Naturally that guy should be chief counsel for the Army.

Obama snubs Netanyahu

March 26, 2010

There will be no claims that President Obama was “too tired” to treat Netanyahu properly. This snub was quite deliberate:

Benjamin Netanyahu was left to stew in a White House meeting room for over an hour after President Barack Obama abruptly walked out of tense talks to have supper with his family, it emerged on Thursday.

The snub marked a fresh low in US-Israeli relations and appeared designed to show Mr Netanyahu how low his stock had fallen in Washington after he refused to back down in a row over Jewish construction in east Jerusalem.

The Israeli prime minister arrived at the White House on Tuesday evening brimming with confidence that the worst of the crisis in his country’s relationship with the United States was over. . .

But Mr Obama was less inclined to be so conciliatory. He immediately presented Mr Netanyahu with a list of 13 demands designed both to the end the feud with his administration and to build Palestinian confidence ahead of the resumption of peace talks. Key among those demands was a previously-made call to halt all new settlement construction in east Jerusalem.

When the Israeli prime minister stalled, Mr Obama rose from his seat declaring: “I’m going to the residential wing to have dinner with Michelle and the girls.”

As he left, Mr Netanyahu was told to consider the error of his ways. “I’m still around,” Mr Obama is quoted by Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper as having said. “Let me know if there is anything new.”

Iran and Venezuela get the open hand, but not Israel. That’s Obama foreign policy.

(Via Instapundit.)


March 25, 2010

This is hilarious:

Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-NY) ties himself in knots trying to deny that health care nationalization charges the IRS with enforcing compliance with the individual mandate. Bill O’Reilly asks him repeatedly who is in charge of levying the fine and Weiner can’t say.

The answer, of course, is the IRS:

(c) NOTIFICATION OF NONENROLLMENT.—Not later than June 30 of each year, the Secretary of the Treasury, acting through the Internal Revenue Service and in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, shall send a notification to each individual who files an individual income tax return and who is not enrolled in minimum essential coverage (as defined in section 5000A of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986).

Setting the comedic value aside, there’s one thing to emphasize here. Weiner is lying. Worse, he doesn’t merely lie about the bill, he lies about O’Reilly making things up. He says it repeatedly, while in actuality O’Reilly is absolutely correct.

This is the Democratic pattern through the health care debate. They say it will let you keep your insurance: lie. They say it doesn’t fund abortion: lie. They say it cuts the deficit: lie. They say it cuts costs: lie. They say it will lower premiums: lie. They say it immediately covers children with pre-existing conditions: lie. They say it won’t fund illegal immigrants: lie. They say it contains no sweetheart deals: lie. They say it won’t lead to rationing: extremely dubious.

I’m convinced that the reason only 55% support repealing this thing is that many people believe the lies. When the learn the truth, that number will only go up.

UPDATE: Updated the rationing link.

Social Security losing money now

March 25, 2010

Social Security has begun wrecking the budget. It first slipped into the red in August 2008, the very month that Peter Orszag, now the president’s budget director, said it would not show a deficit until 2019. Still, last year’s official budget projections said that Social Security wouldn’t start losing money for an entire year until 2017.

Oops. Social Security begins hemorrhaging money this year, and every year thereafter:

The new figures claim that we’ll start getting better next year (don’t they always say that?), and get back into the black briefly in 2014 and 2015. Please. We’ve seen the value of these predictions; there’s no way that will happen.

As of this year, entitlement spending is a sucking chest wound in the federal budget. What a great time to create a big new entitlement.

(Via Hot Air.)

Health care nationalization opposition unchanged

March 25, 2010

Public opinion on health care nationalization appears to be unaffected by passage of the bill. On the day of the vote, 54% opposed it, 45% strongly opposed it, and 41% supported it. The numbers now are essentially unchanged: 55% support repeal, 46% strongly support repeal, and 42% oppose repeal. Nearly half say their state should sue to federal government to block the bill.

Video shows no one spat on Cleaver

March 24, 2010

On the day before the health care nationalization vote, there was a big Tea Party demonstration against the bill. The usual people said that the demonstration was racist. (Because, like, we’d be totally okay with health care nationalization if a white president had proposed it. Er, other than Clinton.) As evidence, they gave us unsubstantiated claims that racial epithets were shouted at black legislators, and one black Congressman, Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), was spit on.

There’s no way to refute the claims of epithets; given all the people there, they could even be true. But it turns out there is good video of the supposed spitting incident. The video shows clearly what really happened. In elementary school we would have said “say it, don’t spray it”. It’s annoying, but these things can happen when you walk through a crowd of screaming protesters. As for the allegation that someone deliberately spat on him, it’s a lie.

UPDATE: Cleaver admits that the whole problem was the guy didn’t apologize for his loose spittle. (Via Instapundit.)

Ten most influential books

March 24, 2010

Ilya Somin has a list today of the books that most influenced his world view. I thought that was fun to think about, so here’s my list based on a few minutes of thought:

  • The Bible. The authoritative work on God and man.
  • C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters. All the lies we tell ourselves to keep ourselves from God. Also, an indictment of American education.
  • C.S. Lewis, Perelandra. Why do we sin, really? Satan seeks to repeat the Fall on a new planet, but this time God sends someone to debate him.
  • C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce. I never understood the idea of hell before I read this book. Hell is not a punishment; hell is a choice.
  • Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom. Hayek explains why socialism leads to totalitarianism.
  • Robert Barro, Macroeconomics. A definitive treatment of neoclassical macroeconomics. It taught me that liberal economics (and big-government conservatism) is doomed to failure.
  • Finn Kydland and Edward Prescott, Business Cycles: Real Facts and a Monetary Myth.  An economics paper that shows that, contrary to common belief, economic contraction — not growth — causes inflation. After reading this paper, watching the news is never the same again.
  • Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged. Much of what Rand says is wrong, and even more of it is right, but she never does anything by half-measures. Aside from the energy machine, this book seems less far-fetched every year.
  • Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism. Fascism is a phenomenon of the left, not the right. Goldberg examines the history of progressivism and fascism and finds them deeply intertwined, and in many cases one-and-the-same. Basically this is a historical confirmation of The Road to Serfdom.
  • Vernor Vinge, The Ungoverned and Marooned in Real Time. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much these two stories influenced me. The first paints a compelling picture of a working society with no government. The second goes mainly in a different (and extremely cool) direction, but in passing explores the evils of government a bit further.

It takes time to control the people

March 24, 2010

Michael Kinsley once said that a gaffe is when a politician accidentally tells the truth. John Dingell (D-MI) committed a heck of a gaffe when he explained why the health care bill takes years to take effect:

The harsh fact of the matter is when you’re going to pass legislation that will cover 300 American people in different ways it takes a long time to do the necessary administrative steps that have to be taken to put the legislation together to control the people.

(Emphasis mine.)

That, is exactly what health care nationalization is about.

Robert Gibbs: unintentional comedian

March 24, 2010

I’m not sure Robert Gibbs understands what transparency means:

“The president is signing an executive order on abortion that is a pretty big national issue,” a reporter asked. “Why would that be closed press, no pictures?”

“We’ll put out a picture from Pete [Souza],” Gibbs said. . .

“Right, but what about allowing us in, for openness and transparency?”

“We’ll have a nice picture from Pete that will demonstrate that type of transparency.”

Awesome! A propaganda shoot from the official White House photographer will “demonstrate that type of transparency.”

(Via Hot Air.)

What about Christian Scientists?

March 24, 2010

Richard Adams asks a good question: Will Christian Scientists get an exemption from the government mandate to purchase health insurance? It’s hard for me to imagine that they wouldn’t, which will probably lead to a surge in persons claiming to be Christian Scientists.

(Via Power Line.)

Pittsburgh-Delta deal backfires

March 24, 2010


The relatively new nonstop Delta (DAL) flight from Pittsburgh to Paris may very well be in trouble. It’s not meeting its revenue targets, and that’s going to cost the city a lot of money. Next year, Delta may simply pull out entirely. This shows that while cities may think they deserve transatlantic service, that’s not always the case.

Pittsburgh International Airport used to be a thriving US Airways hub with nonstop service to Europe. When US Airways cut things down to size in Pittsburgh, the city wanted desperately to get its European flights back. So last year, it entered into a revenue guarantee agreement with Delta Air Lines. Delta would come in and fly to Paris and the state, along with the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, would cover any losses. . .

The subsidies will last until June 2011, two years into the service. For the first year, if the flight underperformed, Delta could be reimbursed with up to $5 million. It looks like they’ll get the maximum. My guess is they’ll have more money coming in year two.

Hoyt gets one right

March 24, 2010

I criticize Clark Hoyt (the New York Times ombudsman) a lot, so it seems only fair to note when he gets one right. It doesn’t change the pattern; he’s still defending his paper, this time from the left. But at least he has the facts on his side this time.

Obama misunderstands his own bill

March 24, 2010

AP reports:

Under the new law, insurance companies still would be able to refuse new coverage to children because of a pre-existing medical problem, said Karen Lightfoot, spokeswoman for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the main congressional panels that wrote the bill President Barack Obama signed into law Tuesday. However, if a child is accepted for coverage, or is already covered, the insurer cannot exclude payment for treating a particular illness, as sometimes happens now. . .

In recent speeches, Obama has given the impression that the immediate benefit for kids is much more robust.

Full protection for children would not come until 2014, said Kate Cyrul, a spokeswoman for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, another panel that authored the legislation. That’s the same year when insurance companies could no longer deny coverage to any person on account of health problems.

Obama’s public statements conveyed the impression that the new protections for kids were sweeping and straightforward. . . The president said Friday at George Mason University in Virginia. . . “Starting this year, insurance companies will be banned forever from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions.”

Did anyone read the bill?

(Via the Corner.)

UPDATE: More here and here. (Via Instapundit.)

Good riddance

March 24, 2010

Hannah Giles is dancing on ACORN’s grave. I think she’s earned it.

I don’t doubt that this is just a tactical retreat, and they’re planning to re-emerge under a new name, one that’s not associated with election fraud, child prostitution, and human trafficking. Still, the good guys won this round.

Seven sweetheart deals in the health care bill

March 24, 2010

Power Line has the details. It’s going to take work just to name them all.

The Scofflaw Principle

March 23, 2010

On the occasion of the second anniversary of Internet Scofflaw, it seems like a good time to explain the name of the blog. The blog is named in honor of the Scofflaw Principle.

Simply put, the Scofflaw Principle says that adult humans are free, and that no one but our creator has the rightful authority to impose rules on us without our consent. Consequently, we are under no moral obligation to obey rules to which we have not consented. The reason we do not murder, cheat, or steal is not because civil authorities have made such acts illegal, but because they violate the moral code given us by our creator.

However, while the civil authorities may have no rightful authority to burden us with rules and regulations, they do have the power to do so. Therefore, while we have no moral obligation to obey their rules, we may find it expedient to do so. Such decisions are made on the basis of our own evaluation of costs and benefits.

I always pay my taxes, even though they go well beyond what the government has any right to demand of me, because if I refuse to do so, it is likely that I will be caught and the penalty is high. On the other hand, I almost never obey Pittsburgh’s ubiquitous no-turn-on-red signs, because I am unlikely to be caught and the penalty is slight.

The Scofflaw Principle clarifies our relationship with the civil authorities. The government is no different from anyone else that seeks to control our actions through coercion. When no moral imperative is at issue, we comply or not based solely on our own assessment of the risks. Some suggest that we have a duty to disobey laws that are improperly constituted. But the Scofflaw Principle says that whether the law is “proper” is beside the point. In the absence of a moral imperative, what matters is whether the government has the power to punish us for breaking it.

There are those who claim that we are not actually required under the law to fulfill various obligations (such as paying taxes). The legal theories underlying such claims are extremely far-fetched, but that’s beside the point. Regardless of what the law “really” says, the fact remains there is no possibility of prevailing in court with such a theory. As a practical matter, the law is whatever the courts say. Expecting courts to do the “right” thing merely sets us up for disappointment.

This is not to say that the rule of law is not important. Our lives are inestimably better when the civil authorities are not capricious, and the rule of law is (or used to be) the most important factor limiting their caprice. The same goes for other principles of good government such as democracy, checks and balances, and separation of powers. None of these principles give the government the moral prerogative to command us, but they do serve to limit governmental caprice.

Finally, a caution. The Scofflaw Principle cuts both ways: the whims of the civil authorities carry no moral authority in either direction. While we need not heed their demands, neither may we accept their warrant. Just because government sanctions an action does not make it moral. We cannot rely on government to tell us what is right any more than what is wrong. We must make moral decisions for ourselves.

Happy bloggiversary

March 23, 2010

Internet Scofflaw turns two today.

Distrust and verify

March 23, 2010

The Economist reports:

Barack Obama was asked when he was in Copenhagen whether a provision by which countries could peek into each others’ assessment processes was strong enough to be sure there was no cheating. He answered reassuringly that “we can actually monitor a lot of what takes place through satellite imagery”. That statement conjured up thoughts of the sort of cold-war satellite system that America used to identify and count Russian missiles. But the president was being a bit previous; at the moment, no such system exists, because America’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO), a satellite that would have fulfilled the role, was lost on launch this time last year.

(Emphasis mine.)

It’s good to know that the president is making decisions based on the best scientific advice.

We still don’t want this bill

March 23, 2010

Rasmussen finds that 49% favor their state suing the federal government to overturn health care nationalization. Only 37% disagree.

UPDATE: A CBS poll finds that 62% want Republicans to continuing challenging the bill.

Duncan rigged school admissions for political allies

March 23, 2010

This is a huge scandal, even for Chicago. Isn’t it? Or is it okay for the politically well-connected to get special treatment?

While many Chicago parents took formal routes to land their children in the best schools, the well-connected also sought help through a shadowy appeals system created in recent years under former schools chief Arne Duncan.

Whispers have long swirled that some children get spots in the city’s premier schools based on whom their parents know. But a list maintained over several years in Duncan’s office and obtained by the Tribune lends further evidence to those charges. Duncan is now secretary of education under President Barack Obama.

The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan’s tenure. It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley’s office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

Non-connected parents, such as those who sought spots for their special-needs child or who were new to the city, also appear on the log. But the politically connected make up about three-quarters of those making requests in the documents obtained by the Tribune. . .

The list surfaced amid a federal probe and an internal investigation into admissions practices at the city’s top high schools. Until Monday, the district had not revealed it had kept such a list. . .

Pickens [a former aide to Duncan] acknowledged the list was kept confidential. The vast majority of parents who follow the system’s school application process never knew they could appeal to Duncan’s office for special consideration.

“We didn’t want to advertise what we were doing because we didn’t want a bunch of people calling,” Pickens said.

They didn’t want a bunch of people calling. The appeals process wasn’t for them.

(Via Hot Air.)

Defending the kickback

March 22, 2010

The reconciliation bill rescinds Ben Nelson’s Cornhusker Kickback. Nelson has announced he will vote against the reconciliation bill. You do the math.

POSTSCRIPT: Yes, I do oppose the reconciliation bill. It makes a bad bill worse, and it doesn’t even rescind the kickback the right way. (Rather than removing the deal it gives it to every state.) But on this subject Nelson gets no benefit of the doubt.

(Via Instapundit.)

Lies, Damn Lies, and Paul Krugman

March 22, 2010

Paul Krugman, serial liar:

Here’s what Newt Gingrich, the Republican former speaker of the House — a man celebrated by many in his party as an intellectual leader — had to say: If Democrats pass health reform, “They will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years” by passing civil rights legislation. . .

I want you to consider the contrast: on one side, the closing argument was an appeal to our better angels, urging politicians to do what is right, even if it hurts their careers; on the other side, callous cynicism. Think about what it means to condemn health reform by comparing it to the Civil Rights Act. Who in modern America would say that L.B.J. did the wrong thing by pushing for racial equality? (Actually, we know who: the people at the Tea Party protest who hurled racial epithets at Democratic members of Congress on the eve of the vote.)

So there you have it: opposing health care nationalization is racist. A little later, he actually comes out and says it: “It was racial hate-mongering.”

The attack on the tea party as racist is a standard rhetorical flourish. Some Democrats claim they heard racial epithets from the crowd. There’s no way to disprove it, and in a crowd of thousands, I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few cranks. No one is taking that line of attack seriously, which is why Krugman only uses it as a throwaway line. The center of his attack is that Newt Gingrich is a racist, and by association, anyone else who opposes health care nationalization must be too.

But that attack is false, as the New York Times sheepishly admits:

This column quotes Newt Gingrich as saying that “Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic Party for 40 years” by passing civil rights legislation, a quotation that originally appeared in The Washington Post. After this column was published, The Post reported that Mr. Gingrich said his comment referred to Johnson’s Great Society policies, not to the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

What a fool. Krugman poses as the expert commentator who can tell us what is really happening and why. He frequently attributes thoughts and motives to his enemies based on nothing more than speculation. In fact, this column makes clear that Krugman hasn’t a clue what motivates his opponents. If he actually knew anything about Newt Gingrich, he would know that Gingrich would never say that. Gingrich has a substantial record — if Krugman cared to look at it — and it makes clear that Gingrich believes the Civil Rights Act was right and has been vindicated by history. LBJ is vilified for many things in Republican circles, and justly so, but the Civil Rights Act is not one of them.

But Krugman doesn’t achieve his insights into his enemies’ character through studying their writings and speeches. He gets it all from his own fevered imagination, in which all are rendered as mere parodies of themselves. Paul Krugman is nothing more than a curiously respectable Keith Olbermann.

The New York Times gets credit, I guess, for having the honesty to run the correction. Usually they don’t correct errors and lies in columns. But then they give most of that credit back for refusing to take the blame. Trying to shift blame to the Washington Post? Lame. The New York Times purports to be a major newspaper, but they can’t even bother to check an obviously bogus quote on which an entire column is erected?

But the Washington Post gets a full helping of blame of its own. First, the story was obviously wrong. (Gingrich’s record aside, here’s another hint the story was wrong: the direct quotation includes no mention of civil rights legislation.) Worse, they never affixed a correction to the article, and instead relegated to a post on the Washington Post blog.

(Via Instapundit.)

Prior restraint

March 22, 2010

The provost of the University of Ottawa has written to Ann Coulter in advance of her upcoming visit to the Ottawa Campus Conservatives, threatening her with prosecution if she says anything that violates Canadian censorship laws.

It’s disgusting enough that Canada has those laws in the first place, but it might be even worse to see the a university provost using those laws to intimidate a campus speaker.

Well, I guess as Dean Steacy (Canadian “human rights” investigator) put it, freedom of speech is an American concept, without value in Canada.

(Via Instapundit.)

Guantanamo 2

March 22, 2010

The Obama administration is considering reconstituting the Guantanamo prison at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan:

The White House is considering whether to detain international terrorism suspects at a U.S. military base in Afghanistan, senior U.S. officials said, an option that would lead to another prison with the same purpose as Guantanamo Bay, which it has promised to close. . .

That the option of detaining suspects captured outside Afghanistan at Bagram is being contemplated reflects a recognition by the Obama administration that it has few other places to hold and interrogate foreign prisoners without giving them access to the U.S. court system, the officials said.

The Guantanamo prison isn’t closed yet, but it has ceased taking new prisoners. This has already created a disaster of lost intelligence:

Without a location outside the United States for sending prisoners, the administration must resort to turning the suspects over to foreign governments, bringing them to the U.S. or even killing them.

In one case last year, U.S. special operations forces killed an Al Qaeda-linked suspect named Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan in a helicopter attack in southern Somalia rather than trying to capture him, a U.S. official said. Officials had debated trying to take him alive but decided against doing so in part because of uncertainty over where to hold him, the official added.

I’m sure there was nothing we could have learned from him. . .

(Via Instapundit.)

Immediate benefits

March 22, 2010

The House Democrats have posted a list of immediate “benefits” people will see from the health care bill:

  • Prohibit pre-existing condition exclusions for children in all new plans;
  • Provide immediate access to insurance for uninsured Americans who are uninsured because of a pre-existing condition through a temporary high-risk pool;
  • Prohibit dropping people from coverage when they get sick in all individual plans;
  • Lower seniors prescription drug prices by beginning to close the donut hole;
  • Offer tax credits to small businesses to purchase coverage;
  • Eliminate lifetime limits and restrictive annual limits on benefits in all plans;
  • Require plans to cover an enrollee’s dependent children until age 26;
  • Require new plans to cover preventive services and immunizations without cost-sharing;
  • Ensure consumers have access to an effective internal and external appeals process to appeal new insurance plan decisions;
  • Require premium rebates to enrollees from insurers with high administrative expenditures and require public disclosure of the percent of premiums applied to overhead costs.

Let me paraphrase:

  • Make private coverage more expensive.
  • Offer a government subsidy.
  • Make private coverage more expensive.
  • Make Medicare more expensive.
  • Offer a government subsidy.
  • Make private coverage more expensive.
  • Make private coverage more expensive.
  • Make private coverage more expensive.
  • Nothing.
  • Make private coverage more expensive.

A couple of these (the appeals process and the high-risk pools) might be good ideas if they’re well-implemented (which I doubt), but every single one of them increases costs. I mention this because they go on to say:

By enacting these provisions right away, and others over time, we will be able to lower costs for everyone and give all Americans and small businesses more control over their health care choices.

Amazing. They list ten items that increase costs, and then somehow claim they are lowering costs for everyone.  Similarly, they say that they give Americans more control over their health care choices, but most of the items on their list foreclose choices. (You want to choose basic minimal coverage? Too bad.) In fact, all of them do, because cost is the greatest choice restrictor of all.

They really are completely out of touch with reality.

UPDATE: From what I’ve been reading (for example), the appeals process item really doesn’t do anything at all.

Ryan tells it like it is

March 22, 2010

The only silver lining I see in this disaster is the emergence of Paul Ryan. Before the health care debate began, most of us had never heard of him.

Preview of coming disaster

March 22, 2010

The health care bill will cost much more than projected:

Holy crap! Medicare was off by nearly an order of magnitude! Also, the taxes that purport to cover it will be unproductive.  We’re looking at utter disaster on the fiscal side of things alone.

(Via Instapundit.)


March 22, 2010

Chris Muir nails it.

We like to believe our government is basically benign. It’s not. It’s us versus them.

Make them pay

March 21, 2010

Democrats sent a clear message today: “F*** you America; we know best.” Now it’s our job to make them pay for their arrogance.

Chavez denies internet crackdown

March 21, 2010

Yeah, whatever:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez denied that the government plans to impose controls on the Internet, saying Sunday that his administration aims to increase Web access rather than limit it.

Earlier this month, Chavez sparked concerns of a possible crackdown on Web sites critical of his government when he called for regulation of the Internet and urged prosecutors to act against Noticiero Digital, a site popular among his opponents.

Chavez has become increasingly critical of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook and says adversaries use them to deceive the public.

In addition to being obviously full of it, Chavez had some trouble staying on message:

Chavez also told his audience that government critics often use the Web “to generate panic,” and said such actions “cannot be permitted.”

We don’t want this bill

March 21, 2010

A review of public opinion on the day of the vote: 54% oppose the bill. More people (45%) strongly oppose the bill than favor it (41%). 55% say that Congress should scrap the bill and start over. The numbers have scarcely budged for months.

57% say the cost of health care will go up. Hardly anyone (17%) says costs will go down. 54% say the quality of care will go down. 57% say the plan will hurt the economy. 81% say it will cost more than projected. 51% say they fear the government more than private insurers.

Just 20% believe Congress understands the bill it’s voting on. Despite all the above, people expect the bill to pass. In accordance with that expectation, just 21% say the government has the consent of the governed.

UPDATE: The CNN poll is even more lopsided but in the same ballpark: 59% oppose, 39% support. (Via Instapundit.)

Stupak folds

March 21, 2010

The word on the street is the Stupak is buying the meaningless executive order. Without the Stupak bloc, today’s vote is a forgone conclusion.

The lesson here is never to rely on a Democrat to do the right thing.

UPDATE: Stupak’s office is denying this. We’ll see.

UPDATE: There is indeed a deal. So much for the “strong” denials out of Stupak’s office.

It looks as though the pro-life Democrats have gone the way of the national-security Democrats.

UPDATE: Well put:

On Stupak, he was like watching an overmatched pitcher in a baseball game hold off a much more formidable opponent only to surrender the game-winning home run in the ninth inning. He simply ran out of gas and backbone. So very sad to see this late in the game. He obviously couldn’t stand up to the pressure. Too bad we had to watch all nine innings thinking he (and other pro-life Democrats) would pull out a victory.

Indeed. Part of what’s so maddening about this is I really came to believe that Stupak was committed to the cause. It turns out I was wrong about which cause.

Broken promises

March 20, 2010

AP reports:

It was a bold response to skyrocketing health insurance premiums. President Barack Obama would give federal authorities the power to block unreasonable rate hikes.

Yet when Democrats unveiled the final, incarnation of their health care bill this week, the proposal was nowhere to be found.

Ditto with several Republican ideas that Obama had said he wanted to include after a televised bipartisan summit last month, including a plan by Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to send investigators disguised as patients to hospitals in search of waste, fraud and abuse.

And those “special deals” that Obama railed against and said he wanted to eliminate? With the exception of two of the most notorious — extra Medicaid money for Nebraska and a carve-out for Florida seniors faced with losing certain extra Medicare benefits — they are all still there.

For the White House, these were the latest unfulfilled commitments related to Obama’s health care proposal, starting with his campaign promise to let C-SPAN cameras film negotiations over the bill.

We can be thankful that the price controls were abandoned. As for the rest, well, who really believed him anyway?

UPDATE: To be clear, although the overt price caps may be out, the bill still does bar insurers from setting actuarially fair prices. Specifically, insurers are prohibited from considering most risk factors in setting their prices. Thus, costs are pushed down for high-risk clients and pushed up for low-risk clients.

Succinctly put

March 20, 2010

Alcee Hastings (D-FL):

There ain’t no rules here, we’re trying to accomplish something. . . .All this talk about rules. . . . When the deal goes down . . . we make ’em up as we go along.

UPDATE: By the way, how crazy is it that a man who was impeached from the federal bench for corruption is now on the House rules committee?

Don’t trust the CBO score

March 20, 2010

Greg Mankiw underscores something I keep saying: The Congressional Budget Office scores legislation statically, meaning that they assume the path of GDP is unchanged. But the path of GDP would not remain unchanged:

Recall that the bill raises taxes substantially. Some of these tax hikes are the explicit tax increases on capital income to pay for the insurance subsidies. Some of these tax hikes are the implicit marginal rate increases from the phase-out of the insurance subsidies as a person’s income rises. Both of these would be expected to reduce GDP growth. Indeed, to be very wonkish about it, these tax changes could have especially large GDP effects.

Also, we all know about the bogus “doc fix” problem in the CBO numbers, wherein the score assumes big future cuts in Medicare reimbursements that will never happen. Keith Hennessey points out that the reconciliation bill creates a new “doc fix” problem in Medicaid. Starting in 2015, the bill states that Medicaid reimbursements will be cut by $29 billion (over the remaining five years in the ten-year budget window). Obviously, that will never happen either.

The static scoring is simply how business is done at the CBO, despite the unrealism of it, but the new funding cliff in Medicaid is simply dishonest. (And remember, the Democrats needed every penny of purported savings in order to get their bill across the line where it can be considered in the Senate under reconciliation instructions.) Now that Congress has learned to rig CBO scores by including blatant lies, I think the CBO isn’t useful any more.

(Via Instapundit.) (Graphic above due to Greg Mankiw.)

White House pressures federal workers to support health care reform

March 19, 2010

CBS reports:

The White House Office of Health Reform Director Nancy-Ann DeParle has been feverishly sending out unsolicited email messages to federal employees in an effort to build support for President Barack Obama’s health reform package over the last several weeks.

DeParle’s unsolicited emails have been regularly coming to some federal employees’ official government email inboxes for weeks without permission or request, causing some federal employees to feel threatened by the overt political language.

The Department of State employees, who receive hundreds of official government emails every day, have complained about the annoying and partisan emails but are nervous to go public for fear of retribution. The emails are addressed to the federal employees by name and use the official .gov address.

The unsolicited emails also request that the federal employees take action in order to ensure that Obama’s health reform package is passed and the federal budget isn’t at risk for bankruptcy.

Surely this must be illegal. Doesn’t the Hatch Act prohibit this?

(Via Patterico.)

UPDATE: It is indeed illegal.

The terrible, horrible, no-good very bad process

March 19, 2010

In my last post, I summarized why the bill is a travesty. It’s also worth looking at why the process that brought this bill to the brink of passage has been a travesty. So here is a non-exhaustive list of things the Democrats had to do to get here:

  • Ignore the will of the American people, of course.
  • Abandon every pretense of transparency.
  • Shamelessly game the Congressional Budget Office.
  • Buy votes with special deals for certain states (Connecticut, Florida, Louisiana, and Nebraska, among others) and for labor unions.
  • Buy the support of the American Medical Association by promising a permanent Medicare reimbursement fix, then renege.
  • Buy the support of pharmaceutical companies, then renege.
  • Attempt to buy the support of medical device companies, then punish them for refusing.
  • Adopt the Slaughter rule (although they might back off this).
  • Promise to ram a reconciliation bill through the Senate. (Whether they actually keep the promise remains to be determined.)
  • Use a manager’s amendment after previously condemning them.
  • Accept Roland Burris — a perjurer appointed by a criminal — to the Senate, rather than risk a special election.
  • Shamelessly change the law in Massachusetts to allow the governor to appoint a Senator.
  • Steal the Senate election in Minnesota.

The terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad bill

March 19, 2010

Let’s see if we can summarize briefly what’s wrong with the bill:

  • It leaves a nominally private health insurance industry in place, but the government will dictate what policies are sold, to whom, and at what price. In other words, it turns health insurance into a public utility. (UPDATE: Joe Biden says “We’re going to control the insurance companies.”)
  • It bends the cost curve upwards.
  • It costs a bazillion dollars.
  • It funds abortion.
  • It requires low-risk people to subsidize high-risk people.
  • It imposes price controls, which invariably lead to shortages. (UPDATE: I’ve read that the price controls have been abandoned. I certainly hope so.)
  • It denies individuals the right to decide for themselves whether to buy insurance.
  • It imposes new taxes on medical devices and pharmaceuticals, thereby discouraging innovation.
  • It sets the stage for health care rationing.
  • It bans some health insurance policies.
  • It imposes unjust and onerous taxes.
  • It includes payoffs for influential states and interest groups. (Yes, still.)
  • It is unconstitutional. (Interstate commerce, my foot. There isn’t any interstate commerce in health insurance.)
  • It undermines public confidence in our democracy.
  • It expands the power of the IRS.
  • It raids student loans.
  • It undermines Medicare by taking the savings from Medicare reforms and spending them elsewhere.
  • It is designed to fail, thereby justifying future government action to meddle further.
  • UPDATE: It creates a new funding cliff in Medicaid, similar to the one in Medicare.

IRS to enforce health care bill

March 19, 2010

Great idea, let’s use the second-most-reviled government agency (after the INS) to review everyone’s health care:

House Republicans said Thursday that the health care overhaul will expand IRS authority by giving agents the power to verify acceptable health care coverage and fine or confiscate the tax refunds of Americans without coverage.

The IRS will now be involved in both death and taxes.

(Via Instapundit.)

Health care adds a massive tax on investments

March 19, 2010

AP reports:

For the first time, the Medicare payroll tax would be applied to investment income, beginning in 2013. A new 3.8 percent tax would be imposed on interest, dividends, capital gains and other investment income for individuals making more than $200,000 a year and couples making more than $250,000. . .

The new tax on investment income is higher than the 2.9 percent tax proposed by President Barack Obama. House Democratic leaders increased it so they could reduce the impact of a new tax on high-cost health insurance plans strongly opposed by labor unions.

Keep in mind that taxes on dividends and capital gains are fundamentally unjust in the first place, since much of that “income” is simply inflation. It’s shameless: First the government steals your buying power by printing money. Then, if you invest wisely to compensate for inflation, they tax your resulting “gains”.

But this is worse than a mere tax hike; it also carries a severe compliance burden:

Medicare payroll taxes traditionally have been low and predictable: a 1.45 percent tax on wages, paid by both employers and workers. The money is taken out of workers’ pay before they see it. There are no forms to file, no deductions to claim.

Under the new health care bill, married couples with combined incomes approaching $250,000 would have to keep tabs on their spouses’ pay to avoid an unexpected tax bill. Those with investments would have to pay even more attention to the income they earn from interest, dividends and capital gains.

“Unless they are very conscientious folks who constantly monitor their income tax withholding, they’re going to have quite a surprise when they go to file their income taxes,” said Jeffrey L. Kummer, director of tax policy at Deloitte Tax LLP.

Finally, I suppose it’s worth pointing out that the president is once again breaking his no-tax-hikes-under-$200k pledge. Two people making $125k each would see a tax hike if they happened to be married.

Health care bill raids student loans

March 19, 2010

As I predicted, the health care bill raids students loans to help pay for health care nationalization. The student loan takeover bill would have used $61 billion in savings from taking over the student loan program to expand the Pell Grant program. However, Democratic leaders were having trouble making their health care reconciliation bill come out even (it cannot be considered under Senate rules if it expands the deficit) so they siphoned off $10 billion of that pool.

This gives an indication of where Democratic priorities are.

POSTSCRIPT: Some will try to rebut this by pointing out that the original legislation also dedicated $10 billion to deficit reduction, but that was when the takeover was expected to net $87 billion in savings, enough to pay for the Pell Grant expansion with money to spare. The CBO later reduced its savings estimate to less than the expansion would cost, necessitating a smaller expansion than originally planned. The decision to set aside $10 billion to offset health care nationalization will reduce it further.

We are all scofflaws now

March 19, 2010

The typical American driver goes 70 mph on the highway, regardless of the posted speed limit.

Obama unpopularity overtakes Bush

March 19, 2010

In the latest Rasmussen poll, President Obama’s strong-disapproval rating is at 44%. In comparison, President Bush’s strong-disapproval rating was at 43% when he left office. The vast majority (75%) say they are angry about government policies, and 45% say they are very angry.

Opinion of Congress is also terrible. The vast majority (71%) say that Congress is doing a poor job. Just 10% say it is doing well. Only 21% say the government enjoys the consent of the governed. The blame is falling on the majority party: The GOP lead on the generic ballot is at 10%, their greatest lead yet. (That’s pretty impressive, considering that people don’t even like Republicans.) Two-thirds disapprove of Nancy Pelosi, and 56% disapprove of Harry Reid. (There’s also considerable disapproval of GOP leaders, but not a majority.) Pollster Frank Luntz says the Unabomber has a higher approval rating that some members of Congress.

Obama imposes arms embargo on Israel

March 19, 2010

President Obama has reportedly cut off weapons shipments to Israel:

The United States has diverted a shipment of bunker-busters designated for Israel.

Officials said the U.S. military was ordered to divert a shipment of smart bunker-buster bombs from Israel to a military base in Diego Garcia. They said the shipment of 387 smart munitions had been slated to join pre-positioned U.S. military equipment in Israel Air Force bases.

“This was a political decision,” an official said. . .

Since taking office, Obama has refused to approve any major Israeli requests for U.S. weapons platforms or advanced systems. Officials said this included proposed Israeli procurement of AH-64D Apache attack helicopters, refueling systems, advanced munitions and data on a stealth variant of the F-15E.

“All signs indicate that this will continue in 2010,” a congressional source familiar with the Israeli military requests said. “This is really an embargo, but nobody talks about it publicly.”

I’ve not heard of World Tribune, the site that ran this story, so take it with a grain of salt. But if it’s true, it seems to answer definitively whether Obama is friendly to Israel.

Obama: do it for me

March 18, 2010

Politico reports:

President Barack Obama had exhausted most of his health care reform arguments with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus during a White House meeting last Thursday when he made a more personal pitch that resonated with many skeptics in the room.

One caucus member told POLITICO that Obama won him over by “essentially [saying] that the fate of his presidency” hinged on this week’s health reform vote in the House. The member, who requested anonymity, likened Obama’s remarks to an earlier meeting with progressives when the president said a victory was necessary to keep him “strong” for the next three years of his term.

(Via Instapundit.)

The CBO score

March 18, 2010

The Democratic leadership has finally released their bill, with its preliminary CBO score. The final CBO score won’t come out for a few days, possibly after the vote takes place. There’s a very good chance that the House will be voting on the bill without knowing its exact cost.

The exact cost matters, as it turns out. The reconciliation instructions require that the reconciliation bill cut the deficit by at least $1 billion; otherwise it can’t be considered. Now, $1 billion isn’t much, but with the reconciliation bill adding $170 billion to the cost, the Democratic leadership had to find at least $171 in tax hikes or savings to hit the mark.

It took them a few iterations to do so (that’s why the bill was delayed), but they eventually got to exactly $171 billion. That’s good enough for the Democrats, if that score holds up. But if the final score worsens by even $1 billion, the reconciliation bill will be dead.

Once again, the House Democrats are fools if they go for this. They are being asked to trust not only that Senate Democrats will act on the reconciliation bill unamended and Senate Republicans will fail to block it, but also that the CBO score won’t change one iota.

(Previous post.)

Still no bill

March 17, 2010

Democratic leaders still haven’t been able to produce a bill that gives them the CBO score they need. If the bill doesn’t come out in the next two hours, and sources say it won’t, they won’t be able to hold a vote on Saturday and fulfill their promise to post the bill 72 hours before the vote. (I don’t find this surprising, since I didn’t expect them to keep either promise.)

(Previous post.)

Another town bans bible studies

March 17, 2010

Gilbert, Arizona is in the process of repealing its unconstitutional ban on bible studies in the home, but a California town is standing by its ban:

For the second time in six months, the city has ordered a group of Christian worshippers who meet inside homes to get a permit or shut down.

It’s the latest incident in which religious groups in Southern California have been targeted by cities for home gatherings, though many of those groups were eventually allowed to meet without obtaining permits.

Rancho Cucamonga is trying to halt Friday night meetings at a home after receiving a complaint in February from a neighbor that 40 to 60 people were gathering weekly in the San Bernardino County location.

Officials said the homeowner needs a conditional use permit by Good Friday, April 2, to operate a church in a residential area.

Pacific Justice Institute, a nonprofit legal defense group that specializes in conservative Christian issues, said the meetings were actually a Bible study group that usually draws about 15 people.

The permit requires public hearings, traffic studies and other costly procedures. Requiring one would be “manifestly absurd and unjust,” according to a statement Tuesday from Brad Dacus, president of the Sacramento-based institute.

The city doesn’t require permits for similar-sized gatherings, “everything from birthday parties to the weekend beer bash,” added Matt McReynolds, an institute attorney.

These folks should go ahead with their meetings without a permit. There’s no way that the town’s effort to shut them down will stand up in court.

(Previous post.)

Still no bill

March 16, 2010

Democrats have still not released their latest health care bill and its CBO score, because they didn’t like the CBO score it got:

House Democratic leaders are still struggling to produce a final health care overhaul bill at an acceptable official cost estimate, but Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said Tuesday they continue to plan a final vote this week. House leaders were to huddle late Tuesday afternoon, following a noon session of the full Democratic Caucus. There were reports they are having trouble drafting a bill that meets their budgetary targets….

Rank-and-file Democrats did not talk about the details, but said that the CBO scores had come up short. “They were less than expected” in terms of deficit reduction, said Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, who plans to vote for the bill.

Not only are the Democrats tossing aside their promise of transparency in the health care negotiations, they aren’t even letting us see the bills they send to the CBO.  Oh well, I suppose it’s passé to complain about the lack of transparency at this point.

The article has some more interesting details. The reconciliation instructions require that the reconciliation bill come out even in the budget (strictly speaking, it has to reduce the deficit by $1 billion, but that’s nothing these days). Their problem is that most of the changes they want to make to the Senate bill cost money, which they need to recoup somehow or they can’t use reconciliation.

Another interesting tidbit: they’ve decided to combine the health care nationalization bill with the student loan nationalization bill. That gives them another source of savings they can tap: student loans. Will Democrats decide to raid student loans (in a bill that is supposed to improve them) in order to get the number they need to overcome procedural obstacles to health care nationalization? I wouldn’t bet against it.

(Via the Corner.)

No US flag in Haiti

March 16, 2010

Army Times reports:

The many nations helping Haiti recover from the devastating earthquake that struck there have set up their own military compounds and fly their flags at the entrances.

France’s tricolor, Britain’s Union Jack and even Croatia’s coat of arms flap in the breeze.

But the country whose contributions dwarf the rest of the world’s — the United States — has no flag at its main installation near the Port-au-Prince airport.

The lack of the Stars and Stripes does not sit well with some veterans and servicemembers who say the U.S. government should be proud to fly the flag in Haiti, given the amount of money and manpower the U.S. is donating to help the country recover from the Jan. 12 quake.

The Obama administration says flying the flag could give Haiti the wrong idea.

The decision was made by US Ambassador Kenneth Merten, at the prodding of the Haitian prime minister.

(Via Hor Air.)

Democrats don’t have the votes

March 16, 2010

That’s how I read this announcement:

The House’s healthcare vote could be delayed until as late as Easter, House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Tuesday.

Clyburn, in an interview with McClatchy Newspapers, said it is possible that the House vote on healthcare reform could take place long past the vote Democratic leaders had hoped for this week.

I guess that talk about having an up-or-down vote this week regardless of the whip count was just talk.

(Via Instapundit.)

Obama administration less transparent than Bush

March 16, 2010

When President Obama came into office, he made a great show of ordering federal agencies to become more transparent. Now, over a year in, it’s clear that his order was just that: a show. In fact, the Obama administration is 50% more opaque than the Bush administration:

One day after being sworn into office, President Barack Obama instructed federal agencies to ensure government transparency by complying with the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act law.

“All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government,” Obama wrote in a memo to federal agencies Jan. 21, 2009. “The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.”

“The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public,” the newly-installed president continued. “They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and down by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.”

One year later, Obama’s requests for transparency have apparently gone unheeded. In fact a provision in the Freedom of Information Act law that allows the government to hide records that detail its internal decision-making has been invoked by Obama agencies more often in the past year than during the final year of President George W. Bush.

Major agencies cited that exemption to refuse records at least 70,779 times during the 2009 budget year, compared with 47,395 times during President George W. Bush’s final full budget year, according to annual FOIA reports filed by federal agencies.

An Associated Press review of Freedom of Information Act reports filed by 17 major agencies found that the use of nearly every one of the law’s nine exemptions to withhold information from the public rose in fiscal year 2009, which ended last October. . .

In all, major agencies cited that or other FOIA exemptions to refuse information at least 466,872 times in budget year 2009, compared with 312,683 times the previous year, the review found. Agencies often cite more than one exemption when withholding part or all of the material sought in an open-records request.

And this is despite receiving about the same number of FOIA requests (just 11% more):

All told, the 17 agencies reviewed by AP reported getting 444,924 FOIA requests in fiscal 2009, compared with 493,610 in fiscal 2008.”

Obama’s treatment of his promises is consistent: greater transparency (less), no signing statements (still using them), close Guantanamo (nope), cut the budget (quite the opposite), won’t raise taxes on those earning under $200k (already did, with more on the way), Jerusalem undivided (reversed), won’t take away your health insurance (just you wait).

(Via Instapundit.)

US close to losing AAA rating

March 16, 2010

Hope and change:

The U.S. and the U.K. have moved “substantially” closer to losing their AAA credit ratings as the cost of servicing their debt rose, according to Moody’s Investors Service. . .

Under the ratings company’s so-called baseline scenario, the U.S. will spend more on debt service as a percentage of revenue this year than any other top-rated country except the U.K., and will be the biggest spender from 2011 to 2013, Moody’s said today in a report.

“We expect the situation to further deteriorate in terms of the key ratings metrics before they start stabilizing,” Cailleteau said. “This story is not going to stop at the end of the year. There is inertia in the deterioration of credit metrics.”

Town bars home bible study

March 15, 2010

I’m pretty sure this won’t pass constitutional muster:

The national Alliance Defense Fund says a town code that bars religious assemblies in private homes in the Arizona community of Gilbert is unconstitutional.

The Oasis of Truth church began meeting at Pastor Joe Sutherland’s house in November and rotated homes several times a week for Bible study and fellowship.

A Gilbert code compliance officer hit the church with a violation notice after seeing a sign near a road advertising a Sunday service.

A zoning administrator told the church that Bible studies, church leadership meetings and fellowship activities are not permitted in private homes.

What makes a blockbuster

March 15, 2010

The Economist explains why blockbusters are an entirely different phenomenon from merely popular books or movies, and why blockbusters don’t have to be good:

Although you might expect people who seek out obscure products to derive more pleasure from their discoveries than those who simply trudge off to see the occasional blockbuster, the opposite is true. Tom Tan and Serguei Netessine of Wharton Business School have analysed reviews on Netflix, a popular American outfit that dispatches DVDs by post and asks subscribers to rate the films they have rented. They find that blockbusters get better ratings from the people who have watched them than more obscure ones do. Even the critically loathed “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is awarded four stars out of five. Ms Elberse of Harvard Business School has found the same of ratings on Quickflix, the Australian equivalent of Netflix.

Perhaps the best explanation of why this might be so was offered in 1963. In “Formal Theories of Mass Behaviour”, William McPhee noted that a disproportionate share of the audience for a hit was made up of people who consumed few products of that type. (Many other studies have since reached the same conclusion.) A lot of the people who read a bestselling novel, for example, do not read much other fiction. By contrast, the audience for an obscure novel is largely composed of people who read a lot. That means the least popular books are judged by people who have the highest standards, while the most popular are judged by people who literally do not know any better. An American who read just one book this year was disproportionately likely to have read “The Lost Symbol”, by Dan Brown. He almost certainly liked it.

This explains why bestselling books, or blockbuster films, occasionally seem to grow not just more quickly than products which are merely very popular, but also in a wholly different way. As a media product moves from the pool of frequent consumers into the ocean of occasional consumers, the prevailing attitude to it—what Hollywood folk call word of mouth—can become less critical. The hit is carried along by a wave of ill-informed goodwill.

Slaughter rule is unconstitutional

March 15, 2010

According to Michael McConnell, a former federal judge. I think he’s right, it terms of what the Constitution says, but I’m skeptical that the Supreme Court would throw the law over this. Alas, that’s what matters.

UPDATE: This is also interesting:

Also seemingly relevant would be INS v. Chada (1983), which rejected the position that a section 7 cases present a non-justiciable political question. The practice at issue in Chada, the one-house veto, was far more established by practice and by statute than is the Slaughter Solution of “deeming” an unenacted bill to have been enacted.

A foolish inconsistency

March 15, 2010

The hobgoblin of State Department minds:

Israelis are used to this pattern: give a big concession and a few months later that step is forgotten as Israel is portrayed as intransigent and more concessions are demanded with nothing in return. Here is a short history of this round:

October 31, 2009: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lavishly praises Israel as making “unprecedented” concessions in stopping construction on West Bank settlements while it is still going to build in east Jerusalem.

November 1, 2009: The U.S. State Department cheers Israel’s announcement that it will stop construction on West Bank settlements but not in east Jerusalem: “Today’s announcement by the Government of Israel helps move forward toward resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

March 12, 2010: Secretary of State Hilary Clinton says that Israel building in east Jerusalem is an “insult” to the United States, jeopardizes the bilateral relationship, and damages the cause of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This is stupid on the surface, of course. But it’s also stupid on a deeper level. The lesson Israel is learning from this is it gains no benefit from making concessions, at least during a Democratic administration. This sort of behavior seems almost calculated to limit our influence with Israel.

At the same time, there was not a peep over the Palestinian Authority naming a square after the woman who led the worst terrorist attack in Israeli history. No wonder just 4% of Israelis see President Obama as a friend to Israel.

(Via Hot Air.)

Central planning

March 15, 2010

Good point:

I just spotted the worst U.S. Census ad yet. Several D.C. buses now sport huge ads on their sides that read (approximately — I’m doing this from memory), “If we don’t know how many people there are, we won’t know how many buses we need.” Yes, you will. A business knows about supply and demand. If operated as a business, Metro would know how many buses it needs without the census. But, increasingly, we’re an allotment society. The ad betrays the way bureaucrats, drawn to central planning (namely because they get to do the planning), think.

POSTSCRIPT: I hope that, at some point, someone does an analysis of where and how the Census spent advertising dollars. I suspect that we’ll find it spent most of its money in places that the Democrats want to be populated and less in places they don’t.

History repeats itself

March 15, 2010

The White House is looking to cut new sweetheart deals to buy the votes it needs for health care nationalization:

Clinching support for the bill might require Obama to back away from his insistence that senators purge the legislation of a number of lawmakers’ special deals.

Taking a new position, Axelrod said the White House only objects to state-specific arrangements, such as an increase in Medicaid funding for Nebraska, ridiculed as the “Cornhusker Kickback.” That’s being cut, but provisions that could affect more than one state are OK, Axelrod said.

That means deals sought by senators from Montana and Connecticut would be fine — even though Gibbs last week singled them out as items Obama wanted removed. There was resistance, however, from two committee chairman, Democratic Sens. Max Baucus of Montana and Chris Dodd of Connecticut, and the White House has apparently backed down.

Axelrod said the principles the White House wants to apply include “Are these applicable to all states? Even if they do not qualify now, would they qualify under certain sets of circumstances?”

(Via the Corner.)

So one-state deals are out (if they’re discovered and publicized), but two-state deals are in.

Heroism, Fatah style

March 14, 2010

Don’t forget, Fatah is supposedly the moderate Palestinian faction:

Dozens of Palestinian students from the youth division of Fatah, the mainstream party led by President Mahmoud Abbas, gathered here on Thursday to dedicate a public square to the memory of a woman who in 1978 helped carry out the deadliest terrorist attack in Israel’s history. . .

The woman being honored, Dalal Mughrabi, was the 19-year-old leader of a Palestinian squad that sailed from Lebanon and landed on a beach between Haifa and Tel Aviv. They killed an American photojournalist, hijacked a bus and commandeered another, embarking on a bloody rampage that left 38 Israeli civilians dead, 13 of them children, according to official Israeli figures. Ms. Mughrabi and several other attackers were killed. . .

“We are all Dalal Mughrabi,” declared Tawfiq Tirawi, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, the party’s main decision-making body, who came to join the students. “For us she is not a terrorist,” he said, but rather “a fighter who fought for the liberation of her own land.” . . .

The square, planted with greenery and flowers, is outside the Palestinian Authority’s National Political Guidance headquarters, a body responsible for morale in the Palestinian security forces, according to the political guidance chief, Gen. Adnan Damiri. . .

Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli monitoring group that highlights examples of anti-Israel incitement by Palestinians, has been tracking the plans to name the square for months. The group says that the Palestinians also named two girls high schools, a computer center, a soccer championship and two summer camps for Ms. Mughrabi in the last two years.

(Emphasis mine.)

The Obama administration has said nothing about the dedication, but at the same it has criticized Israel for building new apartments in a part of Jerusalem that is not being sought by Palestinians.

(Via Power Line.)

IRS priorities

March 14, 2010

If you’re Timothy Geithner, or seven other Obama appointees, or countless members of Congress, paying your taxes is no big deal. However, if you are a private citizen, the IRS will send two agents for less than a nickel:

Arriving at Harv’s Metro Car Wash in midtown Wednesday afternoon were two dark-suited IRS agents demanding payment of delinquent taxes. “They were deadly serious, very aggressive, very condescending,” says Harv’s owner, Aaron Zeff.

The really odd part of this: The letter that was hand-delivered to Zeff’s on-site manager showed the amount of money owed to the feds was … 4 cents.

And then the story gets weird:

Inexplicably, penalties and taxes accruing on the debt – stemming from the 2006 tax year – were listed as $202.31, leaving Harv’s with an obligation of $202.35. . .

Now he’s trying to figure out how penalties and interest could climb so high on such a small debt. He says he’s never been told he owes any taxes or that he’s ever incurred any late-payment penalties in the four years he’s owned Harv’s.

In fact, he provided us with an Oct. 22, 2009, letter from the IRS that states Harv’s “has filed all required returns and addressed any balances due.”

One hand of the IRS tells him that he’s in the clear, while the other is accruing interest and penalties at a rate of 743% per year. I can’t imagine where the IRS gets its bad reputation.

(Via the Corner.)

Obama supports DNA sampling on arrest

March 14, 2010

Let’s not hear any more nonsense about how the Democrats are the defenders of civil liberties:

Gerstein posts a televised interview of Obama and John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted. The nation’s chief executive extols the virtues of mandatory DNA testing of Americans upon arrest, even absent charges or a conviction. Obama said, “It’s the right thing to do” to “tighten the grip around folks” who commit crime.

As the ACLU notes, a DNA sample is much more revealing than a fingerprint:

The American Civil Liberties Union claims DNA sampling is different from mandatory, upon-arrest fingerprinting that has been standard practice in the United States for decades.

A fingerprint, the group says, reveals nothing more than a person’s identity. But much can be learned from a DNA sample, which codes a person’s family ties, some health risks, and, according to some, can predict a propensity for violence.

The ACLU is suing California to block its voter-approved measure requiring saliva sampling of people picked up on felony charges. Authorities in the Golden State are allowed to conduct so-called “familial searching” — when a genetic sample does not directly match another, authorities start investigating people with closely matched DNA in hopes of finding leads to the perpetrator.

And that’s only what can be done today. Who knows what more will be possible when we’ve learned more of the genetic code?

But the more important point is that sampling on arrest means sampling from innocent people. If the president has his way, a baseless arrest will be enough to collect someone’s DNA and keep it on file forever.

(Via Instapundit.)

November Senate preview

March 14, 2010

There are sixteen Senate races this November that look to be possibly competitive.  Twelve seats are held by Democrats, four by Republicans. Sorted by the Intrade likelihood of a Republican win, they are:

  • Democratic seats: North Dakota (94%), Arkansas (85%), Indiana (79%), Delaware (75%), Colorado (72%), Nevada (71%), Pennsylvania (59%), Illinois (53%), Wisconsin (39%), California (36%), Washington (35%), New York (30%)
  • Republican seats: Kentucky (77%), New Hampshire (75%), Ohio (71%), Missouri (65%)

There’s (at least) two ways we can make a prediction from these numbers. If we assume that each seat goes with the favorite (including Illinois), the GOP picks up eight seats and loses none, leaving Democrats with a 51-49 edge. On the other hand, if we compute the expected value naively, the GOP picks up a little over six seats, leaving Democrats with a 53-47 edge. The problem with the expected value calculation is that the sixteen races aren’t actually independent variables; much of the uncertainty is in common, so we can’t compute the real expected value from these numbers. I think the best way to do it is to award each seat to the favorite, except in toss-ups like Illinois.

Additionally, I think that the Illinois and Wisconsin numbers are low. Illinois Democrats have nominated a horrible candidate. In Wisconsin, I’m assuming that Tommy Thompson will enter the race. If he does, he will be the favorite. A new poll puts Thompson over Feingold by 12. That poll may be iffy, but it’s not out of band from last month’s Rasmussen poll which gave Thompson a 5 point lead over Feingold.

Based on that, and on my belief that things are only going to get worse for the Democrats as the year wears on, I’m going to predict that the GOP picks up nine seats. That’s assuming nothing dramatic happens to change the election’s complexion. If Thompson stays out, you can subtract one GOP seat. If there’s a major international crisis or if unemployment drops dramatically, toss this prediction out entirely.

UPDATE (4/16): Thompson won’t run. That costs Republicans a seat, leaving my prediction at an eight-seat GOP pickup.

The mismanagement of Argentina

March 13, 2010

The Economist has an eye-popping article about the mismanagement of Argentina under the Kirchners: Hundreds of millions of dollars of missing money. Rigged economic statistics. Harassment of some business interests while friends of the Kirchners enjoy laissez-faire. The closing of critical media. In all that, this stands out the most:

The Central Bank, which in theory is independent, has also been brought within the president’s direct control. In December the government floated the idea of creating a “Bicentennial Fund” with the aim of using the bank’s hard-currency reserves to pay off a group of foreign bondholders who rejected a debt restructuring in 2005, thereby restoring the government’s access to international financial markets. Martín Redrado, the bank’s governor, demurred, arguing that in an economy like Argentina’s, where many people think in dollars because of past hyperinflation, the reserves were an important cushion against swings in foreign-exchange markets. He was also advised that the transfer might make funds held by the Central Bank abroad vulnerable to claims by creditors.

Thwarted by Mr Redrado, Ms Fernández decided to sack him. Mr Redrado dug his heels in, insisting that only Congress could remove him. A judge who ruled in Mr Redrado’s favour in the dispute, María José Sarmiento, found the police on her doorstep on January 9th. If that was too subtle, the president’s chief of staff, Aníbal Fernández (who is not related to the president), told reporters that the judge’s every movement was being watched. Eventually the president got her way and Mr Redrado was replaced with a more pliant figure.

Democrats renege again

March 12, 2010

Transparency pledges apply only when there’s nothing to conceal:

House Democrats appear to be softening their pledge to allow the public 72 hours to review the health care reform package online before a House vote. “We will certainly give as much notice as possible, but I’m not going to say that 72 hours is going to be the litmus test,” said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Friday.

(Via the Corner.)

Dem leaders want to fund abortion

March 12, 2010

Fox News reports:

The pro-life Democrat leading the charge in the House against passage of the Senate health insurance reform bill said Friday that a key committee chairman told him that Democrats want abortions to be paid by a federally-funded nationalized health insurance system. . .

In an interview . . . Stupak described what he said was a conversation with Waxman about the Senate’s version of the health care overhaul. . . “I gave him the language. He came back a little while later and said, ‘But we want to pay for abortions.’ I said, ‘Mr. Chairman, that’s — we disagree. We don’t do it now, we’re not going to start.’

“‘But we think should,'” Stupak said Waxman told him.

Despite Waxman’s admission that they are trying to change the law, other Democrats are sticking with the dishonest claim that the Hyde amendment somehow prevents federal funding for abortion:

But Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., a liberal Democrat who says he wants federal funding for abortion, told Fox News that the Senate bill changes nothing about the “Hyde amendment,” which is decades-old law preventing taxpayer money from being used to pay for abortion except in cases of rape, incest or injury to the mother.

As has been noted many times before, this is an absolute, bald-faced lie. The Hyde amendment bars Medicaid from spending money on abortion, and it has no relevance here. In fact, the Senate voted down a Hyde-like provision in its health care bill. More here. (Via the Corner.)

UPDATE: The other argument that people make to try to claim that the bill doesn’t fund abortion is that the Senate bill contains language preventing it. That’s not as dishonest as the Hyde amendment argument (which is an outright lie), but it’s also bogus.

It’s called stealing

March 12, 2010

Is your state short on money? Here’s an idea, don’t issue tax refunds:

Residents eager to get their state tax refunds may have a long wait this year: The recession has tied up cash and caused officials in half a dozen states to consider freezing refunds, in one case for as long as five months.

States from New York to Hawaii that have been hard-hit by the economic downturn say they have either delayed refunds or are considering doing so because of budget shortfalls.

I’m sure that when taxpayers are a little short, these states will be happy to let them pay their taxes five months late. No?

All snark aside, this gimmick is pretty close to the bottom of the gimmick barrel. You can’t address real problems by pushing expenditures into the next fiscal year.

(Via Instapundit.)

Tribal politics and the suicide pact

March 12, 2010

This story underscores a basic fact about our two major parties: they don’t differ in ideology, per se. The GOP is a collection of people who share certain common ideas. There are disparate interests within the GOP, but all (or at least most) share a common desire to limit the power and reach of government. The same could be said of most minor parties, that they are based on certain common ideas. But the Democratic party is different. It doesn’t differ from other parties by having a different ideology; rather, it differs by not having an ideology.

The Democratic party is the big government party, but big government isn’t much of an ideology. While conservatives and libertarians oppose big government on principle, no one supports big government on principle. Rather, people support certain ends that might be advanced by big government. The Democratic party is a collection of tribes, cobbled together to contain enough people to contend for political power. It consists of progressives (who want to use the government to re-work society in various ways), trial lawyers (who want a heavily legislated and litigated society), various racial interests (who want to advance themselves at the expense of others), big business interests (who see the government as a tool for rent seeking), and others. Democrats share a common desire to use the reins of power to advance their interests, but do not generally agree on those interests.

They are able to work together on the scratch-my-back-and-i’ll-scratch-yours principle. One Democratic tribe will back another tribe’s goals, knowing that their own turn will come later. Occasionally the seams in the alliance will show when two tribes’ goals are in conflict, but the system generally works for them.

But today we’re looking at a case where it might not be working. The Democratic effort to pass an unpopular health care bill has become essentially a suicide pact. Democrats are looking at terrible retribution from the voters if they pass the bill, but they have decided to sacrifice everything to do it. Health care nationalization is so important, it’s worth giving up their power to accomplish it.

The problem is, that’s the progressives talking; not every tribe feels that way. Some tribes don’t care as much about health care and the suicide pact doesn’t work for them. Why should they sacrifice power to accomplish the goals of another tribe?

I think that’s what we’re seeing with the Hispanic caucus:

A group of Hispanic lawmakers on Thursday will tell President Barack Obama that they may not vote for healthcare reform unless changes are made to the bill’s immigration provisions. . .

Unlike abortion, immigration has flown beneath the radar, and almost seemed to vanish altogether as House Democrats have wrestled with how to accept a Senate healthcare bill far different from the one they passed in November. But immigration remains just as explosive an issue and carries the same potential to derail the entire healthcare endgame, a number of Democrats said. . .

The Senate language would prohibit illegal immigrants’ buying healthcare coverage from the proposed health exchanges. The House-passed bill isn’t as restrictive, but it does — like the Senate bill — bar illegal immigrants from receiving federal subsidies to buy health insurance.

Hispanic Democrats say they haven’t moved from their stance that they will not vote for a healthcare bill containing the Senate’s prohibitions.

There’s a real problem here for Democrats, because reconciliation cannot be used to change the illegal immigration language. (Unless the chair overrules the parliamentarian, but I can’t see Democrats doing something so raw for illegal immigrants.) If the Hispanic caucus is in earnest, the bill is dead.

But opponents of health care nationalization shouldn’t get excited, because the Hispanic caucus is not in earnest. They are angling here for a payoff. They are sending a message: if the Democratic leadership wants them to walk the plank with everyone else, they need something big in return. (An amnesty bill, presumably.) That’s what this story is about.

(Via Althouse, via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is rarely accused of genius, but this tactic might just be genius, even if he didn’t intend it that way.

UPDATE: Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) says he is switching to no. (Via Hot Air.)

A body blow to Democratic health care plans

March 11, 2010

Roll Call reports:

The Senate Parliamentarian has ruled that President Barack Obama must sign Congress’ original health care reform bill before the Senate can act on a companion reconciliation package, senior GOP sources said Thursday.

The Senate Parliamentarian’s Office was responding to questions posed by the Republican leadership. The answers were provided verbally, sources said.

House Democratic leaders have been searching for a way to ensure that any move they make to approve the Senate-passed $871 billion health care reform bill is followed by Senate action on a reconciliation package of adjustments to the original bill. One idea is to have the House and Senate act on reconciliation prior to House action on the Senate’s original health care bill.

Information Republicans say they have received from the Senate Parliamentarian’s Office eliminates that option. House Democratic leaders last week began looking at crafting a legislative rule that would allow the House to approve the Senate health care bill, but not forward it to Obama for his signature until the Senate clears the reconciliation package.

If this is accurate (which seems likely, since Kent Conrad (D-ND) has been saying the same thing), this is a body blow for the health care bill. This means that the only way Democrats can pass this travesty is if House Democrats are willing to go out on a limb and trust the Senate. (If I’m understanding correctly, think the Slaughter rule is now moot.) Now we’ll see just how gullible House Democrats are.

(Via the Corner.)

New York nanny-staters go too far

March 11, 2010

This was only a matter of time, I suppose:

Some New York City chefs and restaurant owners are taking aim at a bill introduced in the New York Legislature that, if passed, would ban the use of salt in restaurant cooking.

“No owner or operator of a restaurant in this state shall use salt in any form in the preparation of any food for consumption by customers of such restaurant, including food prepared to be consumed on the premises of such restaurant or off of such premises,” the bill, A. 10129, states in part.

The legislation, which Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, D-Brooklyn, introduced on March 5, would fine restaurants $1,000 for each violation.

Pelosi lied about Massa

March 11, 2010

Politico reports:

An aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledged for the first time that her office learned of concerns about Massa far earlier than previously known. . . A Pelosi aide told POLITICO on Wednesday evening that Massa’s chief of staff, Joe Racalto, informed a member of Pelosi’s “member services” operation in October that Massa was living with several aides, had hired too many staff members and used foul language around his staff.

Racalto also raised concerns about “the way Massa ran his office” and informed Pelosi’s member-services staffer that he had asked Massa to move out of the group house on Capitol Hill, the Pelosi aide said.

Democratic insiders say Pelosi’s office took no action after Racalto expressed his concerns about his then-boss in October. . .

When news of that investigation broke last week, Pelosi told reporters that her office had previously heard a rumor about Massa, but that there had been “no formal notification” of allegations against him.

The situation is actually quite similar to the 2006 Foley situation. Just as in the Foley case, the leadership knew early of some problems with Massa but not (as far as we currently know) the worst of them, and did nothing.

POSTSCRIPT: Of course, a big difference between the two situations is that in Foley’s case, the opposition leadership (specifically Rahm Emanuel, now White House chief of staff) also knew of the problems with Foley and did nothing, preferring to wait until election season to spring the scandal. Interestingly, Emanuel also seems to have played a role in the Massa scandal, and in the Mahoney scandal in 2008. Funny how that name keeps coming up.

(Via the Corner.)

Holder withheld brief from Senate

March 11, 2010

Fox News reports:

During his confirmation more than a year ago, Attorney General Eric Holder failed to notify lawmakers he had contributed to a legal brief dealing with the use of federal courts in fighting terrorism, the Justice Department acknowledged on Wednesday.

“The brief should have been disclosed as part of the confirmation process,” Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller said in a statement. “In preparing thousands of pages for submission, it was unfortunately and inadvertently missed.”

Still, the “amicus brief,” filed with the Supreme Court in 2004, resonates years later as Holder finds himself defending the handling of some recent terrorism cases, particularly the interrogation of alleged “Christmas Day bomber” Umar F. Abdulmutallab.

The brief – filed by Holder, then a private attorney, former Attorney General Janet Reno and two other Clinton-era officials – argued that the President lacks authority to hold Jose Padilla, a U.S citizen declared an “enemy combatant,” indefinitely without charge. . .

After President Obama nominated Holder to be Attorney General, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent Holder a 47-page questionnaire, including a request for any briefs he had filed with the Supreme Court “in connection with your practice.”

In response, Holder said he participated in a total of five such briefs, none of which dealt with terrorism-related issues. He did not include the Padilla brief, and he signed a statement saying the information he provided was accurate and complete “to the best of my knowledge.”

(Via the Corner.)

UPDATE: Andy McCarthy doesn’t mince words.

UPDATE: Actually, Holder withheld seven briefs. Out of ten.

Attorney General Eric Holder didn’t tell the Senate Judiciary Committee about seven Supreme Court amicus briefs he prepared or supported, his office acknowledged in a letter Friday, including two urging the court to reject the Bush administration’s attempt to try Jose Padilla as an enemy combatant.

[Assistant AG] Weich supplied a list of seven briefs that White House lawyers missed when they prepared Holder’s confirmation questionnaire, in the cases Padilla v. Hanft, Johnson v. Bush, Miller-El v. Dretke, Rumsfeld v. Padilla, Dretke v. Haley, Missouri v. Seibert and McDonald v. United States. Holder was party to the amicus brief in all of the cases except McDonald v. United States, in which he was the lawyer who prepared the brief.

Holder’s questionnaire listed three: D.C. v. Heller, Miller-El v. Cockrell and a different brief in Johnson v. Bush.

Holder disclosed fewer than one-third of his Supreme Court briefs. I don’t see how such omission can be considered anything other than flagrant.

(Via Hot Air.)


March 10, 2010

Taking parliamentary chicanery to a whole new level, House Democrats are working on a scheme to approve the Senate health care bill without ever actually voting on it:

House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter is prepping to help usher the healthcare overhaul through the House and potentially avoid a direct vote on the Senate overhaul bill, the chairwoman said Tuesday.

Slaughter is weighing preparing a rule that would consider the Senate bill passed once the House approves a corrections bill that would make changes to the Senate version.

UPDATE: Daniel Foster explains how this would work.

Durbin: Obama is not telling the truth

March 10, 2010

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) today:

Anyone who would stand before you and say ‘well, if you pass health care reform next year’s health care premiums are going down,’ I don’t think is telling the truth. I think it is likely they would go up.

President Obama, two days ago:

Our cost-cutting measures mirror most of the proposals in the current Senate bill, which reduces most people’s premiums.

I’m sure Durbin would have said something different if he had realized that Obama was out there telling this particular lie. You can’t blame Durbin, though; it’s hard to keep track of all the president’s lies. Still, I doubt that will save him from a trip to the woodshed.

(Via Hot Air.)

Printing organs

March 10, 2010

This is right out of science fiction. Enjoy your medical innovation while it’s still happening.

Government-run health care

March 10, 2010

Another horror story, this time from Canada. Government-run health care provides universal coverage, not universal access.

Democrats to require health care for part-time labor?

March 10, 2010

If I’m reading this right, and I hope I’m not, one of the House Democrats’ demanded “fixes” to the Senate bill would require businesses to provide health care for part-time workers. If that were to become law, it would pretty much put an end to part-time labor.

(Via Hot Air.)

Another wrinkle in reconciliation

March 10, 2010

It seems that the idea of using reconciliation to fix the Senate health care bill is even more far-fetched than I thought:

Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota and chairman of the Budget Committee, said the reconciliation instructions in last year’s budget resolution seemed to require that Mr. Obama sign the Senate bill into law before it could be changed.

“It’s very hard to see how you draft, and hard to see how you score, a reconciliation bill to another bill that has not yet been passed and become law,” Mr. Conrad said. “I just advise you go read the reconciliation instructions and see if you think it has been met if it doesn’t become law.”

So the idea that the president would sign the bill and its “fix” at the same time isn’t just far-fetched, it’s probably impossible. The Senate can’t even take up the fix until the Senate bill has been signed into law. At that point, the Senate will likely find that it has other things to do.

The House Democrats are complete fools if they go for this scam. (Which is not to say they won’t.)

(Previous post.) (Via Hot Air.)

Hayek on Obama’s apology tour

March 10, 2010

Friedrich Hayek (in The Road to Serfdom) explains why President Obama’s world apology tour has been such a failure. The players have changed, but this analysis seems just as apt today as it was in 1944.

The main cause of the ineffectiveness of British propaganda is that those directing it seem to have lost their own belief in the peculiar values of English civilization or to be completely ignorant of the main points on which it differs from that of other people. The Left intelligentsia, indeed, have so long worshiped foreign gods that they seem to have become almost incapable of seeing any good in the characteristic English institutions and traditions. . .

To believe, however, that the kind of propaganda produced by this attitude can have the desired effect on our enemies and particularly on the Germans, is a fatal blunder. The Germans know England and America, not well, perhaps, yet sufficiently to know what are the characteristic traditional values of democratic life, and what for the last two or three generations has increasingly separated the minds of the countries. If we wish to convince them, not only of our sincerity, but also that we have to offer a real alternative to the way they have gone, it will not be by concessions to their system of thought. We shall not delude them with a stale reproduction of the ideas of their fathers which we have borrowed from them — be in state socialism, Realpolitik, “scientific” planning, or corporativism. We shall not persuade them by following them half the way which leads to totalitarianism.

If the democracies themselves abandon the supreme ideal of the freedom and happiness of the individual, if they implicitly admit that their civilization is not worth preserving, and that they know nothing better than to follow the path along with the Germans have led, they have indeed nothing to offer. To the Germans all these are merely belated admissions that the [classical] liberals have been wrong all the way through and that they themselves are leading the way to a new and better world, however appalling the period of transition may be. The Germans know that what they still regard as the British and American traditions and their own new ideals are fundamentally opposed and irreconcilable views of life. They might be convinced that they way they have chosen was wrong — but nothing will ever convince them that the British or Americans will be better guides on the German path.

Wielding the rubber stamp is such a bother

March 10, 2010


Los Angeles City Council members have figured out how to be in two places at once.

Consider the council’s meeting on Nov. 25: On that day, Councilman Tony Cardenas voted to install a new executive at the Community Redevelopment Agency. He agreed to cut the budget by slashing overtime pay. He even voted to install a bronze bust of former Councilman Nate Holden at a municipal performing arts center.

Yet Cardenas was not in his chair for any of those votes. Instead, the San Fernando Valley councilman was behind closed doors in a nearby private room for an hour and 50 minutes. As he conferred with an aide to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a computer at his desk in the council chamber automatically voted “yes” on those issues — and eight others. . .

A spotty voting record can easily become a political liability. So instead of being recorded as absent, the council members have a technological fix: The chamber’s voting software is set to automatically register each of the 15 lawmakers as a “yes” unless members deliberately press a button to vote “no.”

(Via the Corner.)

Public hates health care reform

March 9, 2010

There’s no improvement in public opinion for health care reform:

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 42% favor the plan while 53% are opposed. These figures include just 20% who Strongly Favor the plan and 41% who are Strongly Opposed.

Last week, support for the health care plan inched up to 44% following the president’s televised health care summit. However, that mild bounce has faded, and support is back to where it was for months. With the exception of last week’s results, overall support for the president’s health care plan has stayed in a very narrow range from 38% to 42% since Thanksgiving.

As has been the case for months, Democrats overwhelmingly favor the plan, and Republicans are overwhelmingly opposed. As for those not affiliated with either major party, 32% favor the plan, and 64% are opposed.

Hardly anyone believes that the plan will achieve its goals:

Fifty-four percent (54%) of voters believe passage of the proposed health care legislation will lead to higher health care costs. Just 17% believe it will achieve the stated goal of reducing the cost of care.

Forty-nine percent (49%) also think passage of the plan will reduce the quality of care, while only 23% believe it will improve the quality of care. . .

When it comes to health care decisions, 51% fear the federal government more than they fear private insurance companies.

Given those numbers, it’s hard to understand why even 42% favor the plan. I think this explains it though:

One reason for the huge partisan gap is that a solid plurality of Democrats believe it would be a good for workers if they were forced off a private insurance plan and on to a government program. Republicans and unaffiliated voters strongly disagree.

The Democrats have tried to persuade the public that no one would lose their current health care under their plan. Not only is that false, it seems as though even Democrats see through it. Democrats actually seem to support the plan because they don’t believe it. The way these numbers make sense is if many Democrats are willing to accept more-expensive, lower-quality health care in exchange for forcing the public into government-run health care.

The plan has a good chance of passing despite public opposition. This is doing real damage to public confidence in our political system:

The disconnect between sustained public opposition to the plan and the belief it may pass may be one reason that just 21% of voters believe the federal government has the consent of the governed.

That one figure puts the entire debate in a nutshell. Democrats don’t care what the public wants. The public unwisely gave them the power to do whatever they want, and the public can’t take that power away until November. Democrats are going to do what they’ve always wanted, while they still can, and damn the consequences.

(Via Instapundit.)

UPDATE: A new AP poll finds over two-thirds opposition to Democrats going it alone:

More than four in five Americans say it’s important that any health care plan have support from both parties. And 68 percent say the president and congressional Democrats should keep trying to cut a deal with Republicans rather than pass a bill with no GOP support.

(Via the Corner.)

Bad ally

March 8, 2010

Michael Yon has a troubling report from a Spanish base in Afghanistan. It seems that the Spanish are treating our Marines very badly, not just in terms of bad living conditions, but refusing to allow security improvements. One hopes that this just poor leadership at one base, but given how Spain has behaved since Zapatero came into office, one can’t help wondering if it’s policy.

(Via the Corner.)

Obama’s asinine bank tax

March 8, 2010

The president wants a bank tax:

President Barack Obama said the levy he wants to impose on as many as 50 large financial firms is aimed at getting back “every single dime” that taxpayers put in to bailing out those companies. . . “We want our money back, and we’re going to get it.”

How asinine is that? Here’s a hint:

Most of the banks have already repaid the bailout with interest. And, of the companies that have not, most are not subject to the tax.

(Via Michelle Malkin.)